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Before Ellen & RuPaul: Celebrating the Proud History of LGBTQIA+


By Laura Wagner

In 1969, police raided Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village gay bar located on Christopher Street. It was the second raid in a week, but this time, the patrons fought back. The multi-day protests that followed, known as the Stonewall Riots, are credited with launching the modern-day movement for LGBTQIA+ rights.

More than 50 years later, Americans are well aware that the word “pride” and rainbow flags are emblematic of the LGBTQIA+ community, but few know why. LGBTQIA+ History Month, held each October, gives us the opportunity to explore the rich chronicle of this historically marginalized population.

While gay rights activists had worked quietly for years to make change, the Stonewall Riots marked a new beginning. A year later, in 1970, a group of activists decided to build on the Stonewall events by holding the country’s first gay-rights parade. A crowd of a few hundred marchers started on Christopher Street in front of the Stonewall Inn and grew to include thousands of individuals by the time the march ended at Central Park, according to a New York Times article published at the time.

Marchers “gathered to protest laws that make homosexual acts between consenting adults illegal and social conditions that often make it impossible for them to display affection in public, maintain jobs, or rent apartments,” the article reported, noting the protesters chanted, “‘Say it loud, gay is proud,’ while holding up silk banners of bright red, green, purple, and yellow.” lgbtqia flag

One of the protesters was Michael Kotis, president of the Mattachine Society, a gay activist group founded in 1950. Kotis told The New York Times reporter, “‘Gay people have discovered their potential strength and gained a new pride. The main thing we have to understand,” he added, holding a yellow silk banner high in the air, “is that we’re different, but we’re not inferior.’” 

Eight years later, artist Gilbert Baker was challenged to create a flag as a symbol of pride for San Francisco’s annual pride parade by none other than California politician Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the state. Baker’s original design included eight stripes (see image) but was modified over the years for practical purposes into the six-color version often seen today (source: Wikipedia). The “official” flag design, however, remains a source of controversy among the community it represents. 

October is designated as LGBTQIA+ History Month in part to coincide with National Coming Out Day, Oct. 11—an event that would have been unheard of as a public celebration as recently as 1973. According to Dr. John Hudson, Director of UHD’s Center for Diversity & Inclusion (CDI), homosexuality was regarded as a mental illness until that year, when it was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-III (commonly known as the DSM-III). The DSM is used by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) for classifying mental disorders and standardizing language and criteria for diagnoses. 

According to Hudson, “The pioneering research of Dr. Evelyn Hooker, who I describe as ‘our greatest ally,’ demonstrated in 1953 that there was no evidentiary psychiatric or psychological basis for classifying homosexuality as a mental illness. Hooker concluded that the only reason homosexuality was considered a mental disorder was because the consensus among psychiatrists and psychologists was that it must be a mental illness, an assumption based on unconscious bias at best, and blatant bigotry at worst.” 

And yet Hooker’s research was largely ignored by the APA. “For the 20 years between 1953 and 1973, LGBTQ people were subject to tortuous aversion therapies, including electoshock treatments and even transorbital (frontal) lobotomies, simply because the heterosexual, male-dominated fields of psychiatry and psychology did not want to accept the iron-clad case that Hooker’s work presented,” said Hudson. “It was a far too inconvenient truth for them.”

That’s why learning about LGBTQIA+ history is so critical, Hudson explained. “Long before Ellen and RuPaul, there was Stonewall and all the many courageous activists who made it possible for the gay community to live openly.” 

UHD’s CDI has planned a number of events designed to explore the LGBTQIA+ community’s history in October. This year’s theme, “Honoring Our Past, Fighting for Our Future,” is a reminder that in spite of legislation supporting gay rights, those rights are not secure and must continue to be defended. 

Questions? Contact Dr. Hudson at hudsonj@uhd.edu.  

LGBTQIA+ Month Calendar of Events

Oct. 17, 1 - 2:30 p.m.  
Why Coming Out Matters: A Delayed Celebration of National Coming Out Day  
Zoom Discussion—Presented by UHD Sexuality & Gender Alliance (SAGA) and the Center for Diversity & Inclusion 

Oct. 18, 3 - 5 p.m.  
Gator LGBTQ Ally Training: A GatorLEADER Workshop  
Zoom Event—Presented by the Center for Diversity and Inclusion 

Oct. 19, 11 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.  
UHD Gator LGBTQ Ally Team Official Launch 
S-370—Center for Diversity and Inclusion

Oct. 19, 3 - 5 p.m.  
Transgender 101: A GatorLEADER Workshop  
Zoom—Presented by the Center for Diversity & Inclusion

Oct. 20, 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.  
Spirit Day Celebration: Take the Pledge  
*Tabling Event, 3rd Floor OMB—Presented by the Center for Diversity & Inclusion

Oct. 24, 12:30 - 2 p.m. 
Film Discussion of For They Know Not What They Do  
ZOOM Event—Presented by the Center for Diversity & Inclusion

Oct. 25, 12:30 - 2 p.m. 
LGBT History Month Jeopardy: The Advanced Version  
Zoom Event—Presented by the Center for Diversity & Inclusion

Oct. 26, 3 - 5 p.m. 
LGBTQ Awareness: A GatorLEADER Workshop  
Zoom Event—Presented by the Center for Diversity & Inclusion

Oct. 27, 12:30 - 2 p.m. 
Film Discussion of Saltwater Baptism: Gay and In Love at an Evangelical College  
Zoom Event—Presented by the Center for Diversity & Inclusion

Oct. 31, 1 - 3 p.m. 
“Why Drag?”: A Panel Discussion on the History and Meaning of Drag  
Zoom Event—Presented by the Center for Diversity & Inclusion